Bronwen Dickey On The Demonization Of Pit Bulls

Jul 16, 2016

Bronwen Dickey has become one of the more controversial authors of the moment thanks to her book “Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon.” In it, she argues that research shows that as a breed pit bulls are no more dangerous or vicious than any other dog.

She does acknowledge that individual pit bulls that have been bred to fight can be extremely dangerous. But that distinction has been lost to the angry critics who’ve trolled her on social media and harassed her at book signing events and even at her home. Because of the commotion, her publisher has insisted that security be brought in to protect her at the bookstores where she promotes the book, and she and her husband have installed video monitoring equipment at their house.

All of this is ironic because what Dickey set out to do in her book was to explore how prejudice takes hold and shapes our worldview. In our conversation, Dickey reminds us that in the early 20th Century, the pit bull was beloved as the all-American family dog, a mutt with no pretensions so well-loved that it even played a starring role as Pete the Pup, the canine companion of the Little Rascals in the "Our Gang" comedies. She describes the circumstances that led to the demonization of the pit bull in more recent decades.

One of Dickey’s observations led my wife Janece Shaffer and I to make a trip to the Atlanta Humane Society shortly after I talked to Dickey in the "Two Way Street" studio. She pointed out that shelters have a hard time adopting out dogs that appear to be pit bulls because of the current impression they are dangerous. Janece and I understand that. On our visits to the Humane Society we’ve always quickly walked past the pens that hold what we assume are pit bulls. But Dickey reports that the least reliable method of determining a dog’s breed is through observation, and in any case, since no research can confirm that the breed itself is hard-wired to be violent, picking a dog should be based on how one interacts with that animal.

On our visit to the Humane Society, I was immediately attracted to a puppy who greeted us with excited wags of his tail, wanted to be cuddled and clearly was looking for people to love.

We took him home, and Janece quickly named him Uncle Gus; within minutes he and our older dog Pepper were playing like old buddies, and in the weeks since have become close friends.

Now it turns out that Uncle Gus may well have a little pit bull in him. But he is as sweet as the pit bull Bronwen adopted and that led her to do the research that led her to write her book.

Later in the show, Melissa Faye Green, author of “The Underdogs,” shares with us heart-warming stories about a very different kind of dog: those that are specifically trained to be of assistance to people with physical or mental impairment. Greene describes the work of an Ohio organization called 4 Paws for Ability, where they train dogs to deal with the specific challenges of the individuals – mostly children – who need them.